People (ourselves included) like to moan that there are no original ideas in Hollywood these days and that much-loved ’80s classics are being ruined by pointless remakes but the idea of remakes isn’t a new one. Famously, The Thing (1982) was itself a remake and Invaders From Mars was also one.
Taking its plot and title from the 1953 original, Invaders From Mars combines sensibilities from both the ’50s and the ’80s. It tells the tale of David Gardner, a young boy who has an idillic life with his parents. The movie starts with David and his father, George, watching a meteor storm and it soon becomes apparent that David knows his stuff when it comes to space.
It’s all a bit ‘gee, Pops!’ though and David’s room, adorned with space ships and posters of planets, is a throwback to the space-obsessed ’50s. However, that night the crust on this particular apple pie family utopia is shattered when David witnesses a UFO landing just beyond the hill behind his house.
He asks his father to check it out and the next morning, it is clear that something is wrong. George is acting quite strangely (putting a ridiculous amount of sugar in his coffee and speaking in a weird monotone) and seems intent on taking young David to the UFO site. This is because George is now a host for some sort of Martian bastard! Uh-oh. And anyone who goes to check out the site is going to get captured and taken over. Of course, David figures it out pretty quickly.
Now at this point, you’ll be expecting them to drag out the ‘why doesn’t anyone believe me?’ nonsense out for an hour but apart from an altercation with his battle axe of a teacher (who has a fabulous scene where she eats a frog), they get past this phase of the film pretty quickly.
Eventually, once his mother is Martianed up, he convinces the school nurse, Linda. that aliens are invading the town. Linda is played by the sadly-departed Karen Black (his mother in real life) and while she’s fine in the role, there are times where the film gets a little bit silly and seems to be played for laughs and her performance (think Samantha in Bewitched) combined with her slightly cross-eyed look makes it all feel a bit like like a Three Stooges episode.
This isn’t a sophisticated film. That’s no surprise but the humour and acting does feel dated and this tale of smalltown America is just a tad too sweet and Hunter Carson (who plays David) gives a strong performance but it can sometimes have that kind of Goonies style childishness that doesn’t really belong in a sci-fi horror film.
After a first half of light suspense and drama the film changes somewhat when the military become involved and, in my opinion, the film improves. Of course, the General in charge is a bit of a caricature, like everyone in the movie, but when the humans take the fight to the Martians we get to see the aliens close up, which allows the effects team (that includes Stan Winston) to shine with some deliciously ’80s practical effects.
The creatures aren’t scary in the slightest but they are fun. The Martian leader, known simply as ‘The Supreme Intelligence’ is a weird brain creature similar to Krang in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, and is brilliantly realised by Stan and his team.
The film’s ending sequence is at least enjoyable and provides a good finish to what would otherwise be a very ordinary film. However, the film’s actual finale is a little bit of a cop out.
While the tone of the film is maybe a little misjudged (choosing deliberately daft humour over scares), it is well directed (by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) and worth checking out. It’s a shame that the Dan O’Bannon screenplay doesn’t live up to the writer’s previous work (namely Alien) though and the film could definitely use a lot more scares.
I’m sure that people who grew up with this movie will view it entirely differently but I was a little disappointed but it is worth a look though and is due for a Blu Ray release next month, so keep an eye out for that. And also for any weird behaviour from your parents. They are either Martians or cultists.